Syrian Kurds Vow To Drive Out Turkey-backed Rebels

Syrian Kurdish militants have promised to clear a northern Syrian territory held by Turkey-backed rebels, warning that Turkey will be pulling itself into a swamp if it ever attacks Afrin.

“We don’t accept the Turkish state’s presence or invasion in this region in any form. I want to stress that we don’t recognize their alliances either. Our goal and struggle to liberate the Azaz-Jarablus area will continue,” Syrian Kurdish YPG Commander Sipan Hemo told Firat News Agency.

The area between Azaz and Jarablus, both close to the Turkish border, was cleared from Islamic State militants in the past year by the Turkish army and moderate Arab rebels. Kurds were skeptical about Turkey’s intentions, claiming that they were dividing two Kurdish cantons to halt a possible Kurdish statelet on Turkey’s doorstep. Ankara made clear that it wouldn’t tolerate a Kurdish state in Syria.

The threat of the Kurdish commander came at a time when Turkey sent military reinforcements around Afrin, a Kurdish-held town separated from other cantons. Kurds in Afrin have grown increasingly concerned that Turkey’s assault was imminent. The episode may also derail critical operation around Raqqa against ISIS, which is spearheaded mostly by Kurdish fighters.

Turkey considers the YPG as a franchise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish rebel group waging an insurgency against the Turkish state for over three decades. Syrian Kurds say they are not posing a threat to Turkey.

Mehmud Berxwedan, commander of Kurdish YPG forces in Afrin, told Voice of America’s Kurdish radio service that Turkey will be plunged into a swamp — politically and militarily — if Turkey attacks Afrin.

His remarks came amid a flurry of diplomatic talks between Washington and Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called U.S. President Donald J. Trump to discuss the latest situation in Syria as well as the Kurdish presence in Afrin.

Mr. Erdogan then phoned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

In the meantime, Brett McGurk, U.S. presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, who is supervising the Raqqa operation, visited Ankara on Friday. He said he was holding consultations with Turkish officials on “mutual efforts to defeat ISIS,” and ensure that it can never return.

Earlier in the week, Mr. McGurk had expressed concerns about the Turkish activity near Afrin, noting that the U.S. doesn’t want anything that’d disrupt the Raqqa campaign.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said last week that the Afrin region needs to be cleared of “terror elements and terrorists.”

On June 30, the Turkish military said in a statement that it retaliated against militants in Afrin following the harassment fire on a Turkish border military post in Hatay.

Before Mr. Erdogan came to Washington to meet with Mr. Trump in May, he ordered fighter jets to pound bombs on Syrian Kurdish militants, putting at risks U.S. troops due to a very late warning. U.S. armored vehicles patrolled Turkish-Syrian border following the incident in the hope of preventing a clash between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

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